Hospitality Workers One Step Closer to “Living Wage”

Cake and balloons helped convey the festive atmosphere in front of City Hall Friday, as the Long Beach Living Wage Coalition presented to the City Clerk’s office the boxfuls of signatures necessary to qualify for the November ballot an initiative to require hotels with over 100 rooms, as well as Long Beach Airport and the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center, to pay their employees a minimum hourly rate of $13 per hour.

“I’m surprised to be back here so soon,” enthused Debbie Pacheco, a front-desk clerk at the downtown Hyatt Regency, noting that it took only six weeks since the group’s kickoff rally in February to collect 30,000 signatures. “Many people — including a few in the business community — said it couldn’t be done. [… But] we did it! We just made history!”

History, of course, has yet to be made, as the presence of well-known local lobbyist Mike Murchison — “I just wanted to enjoy the celebration,” he said with a smile — seemed to highlight what all concerned already know: this promises to be a contentious ballot initiative.

“The encouraging thing is that the community is behind this,” said Christine Petit, a steering committee member of the Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Community, a major component of the LB Living Wage Coalition. “We would not have been able to get 30,000 signatures in six weeks if we didn’t have a lot of community members who are supporting this. But certainly as we ramp up to the election it’s going to be really important that we’re talking to all of the voters about how important this is for our city and make sure that people really know what’s going on inside the hotels. The hotels are hugely profitable in Long Beach, and workers working full-time can’t even afford to take care of their families, even though they’re taking care of the people who are visiting our city. And that’s not reasonable.”

“Across the board you have to commend them, because it takes quite an effort to pull that off [in such a short timeframe],” said Murchison, president of Murchison Consulting. Murchison confirmed that he is “involved” in the matter of the “living wage” initiative, and that the hotels’ case for voting against it “will be coming out shortly.”

“It’s just a question of at what point in time do the hotels collectively want to go full-bore on the thing, to determine what it is they want to fight and how they want to fight it,” he said. “It’s a heavy impact for the hotels. There’s a financial impact. […] At the end of the day, it will be an explosive issue. As it gets closer to the election, you’ll start to see politicking and media outreach like never before, because it’s an issue that generates a lot of discussion on both sides.”

Leigh Shelton, communications coordinator for the Coalition, is confident that the discussion on one side of the matter ultimately will carry the day.

“When you talk to people about this issue, they’re on our side,” she said. “The real plus about doing this door-to-door campaign [to gather the signatures] is that we already got the chance to talk to people about what’s going in one of the major economic engines in the City of Long Beach. And people get it.”

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